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Saturday, 2 March 2013

Problems with Windows 8 and Office 2013

At first glance it appears that Microsoft is trying to serve both the tablet market and the PC market with a single operating system. In the new version of Windows, Windows 8, you have a whole-page start screen to begin with. This contains a dedicated button that lets you go to a desktop, but is set up in the way a tablet is set up with big, obvious buttons linked to required functions. There's also a lot of things on the default screen that you will not want, but it's a matter of doing a few ''unpins" and you can pare the screen down to the essentials quickly. The desktop is just like what you've been used to seeing in Windows since forever. But click on Internet Explorer in the start page and it weirdly opens in a full-screen view, without anything like the look and feel of a browser. You scratch your head and eventually find the control that lets you see IE in desktop mode.

Which is fine but IE is not suitable for me, apart from the fact that it defaults to the Bing search engine, which is something that I do not want to use. Ever. To get past this, I downloaded the latest version of Firefox and installed it but had to uninstall it soon afterward because it kept freezing when I tried to use it to download some application software from the web. When I tried to download Google Chrome, IE put up a dialog that just ran and ran, so nothing happened in that case either. And if you go to the downloads folder and try to install Chrome from there the navigation window just hangs. Who knows what the problem is. So I'm stuck with a browser that I don't want to use since Windows 8 does not want to work with either Firefox or Chrome. This situation is less than ideal, it has got to be said.

But more troubling for me is that I cannot get Outlook 2013 to work with my email servers. There are two servers and three accounts. One account I set up initially let me receive emails but would not send them; the other let me send but not receive. Now they're both not working and so I have shut down Outlook in anticipation of contacting the Microsoft help people on Monday. It's the weekend here so there's no phone help for the next two days. The Outlook problems are confusing because I am using the exact same settings that worked fine with the Outlook I used to run on my Vista PC.

The HP Phoenix machine I bought is otherwise apparently very good. It's got 16GB of RAM and a 3TB hard drive. It starts up and shuts down much faster than the old HP Pavilion, but without the ability to use the internet the way I want to use it, the performance of the box seems a bit irrelevant.

I do not like the way Microsoft forces you to use the web to fit in with their corporate priorities. I have used Google to search since Google was introduced in 1998 and I'm not going to stop using it now just because the company that runs it is a competitor for the company that makes my operating system. Further, IE is just not as good as Firefox, and anyway there are some important sites I need to use regularly that do not support IE. I have no problem with the look and feel of Windows 8 at all; the interface seems fine even if it takes a little getting used to. But the bad blood between Microsoft and Google is causing me a big headache. I wish that Microsoft would just stick to doing operating systems and leave the front-end stuff to people who do it better than they ever will.

I can see it will be possible, no doubt, to solve the Outlook 2013 problem with some technical support. The browser issue, however, I cannot see there being any solution to unless Microsoft issues a product fix soon for Windows 8. Of course, their marketing strategy may even be to alienate people from their browser of choice by building incompatibility into the new operating system. Now and into the future.

There also seem to be a few incompatibilities with my old keyboard when used with Windows 8. No doubt these will become more obvious as time goes on, but I notice that the numeric keypad does not work at all with Windows 8 for example.

UPDATE Sat 10.45am: Phoned HP support and they tried to have me reinstall Firefox but although the install file downloaded OK from the Mozilla website, it would not install on the PC. Tried deleting Firefox files that were left there after the Firefox uninstall but Windows 8 told me that only an administrator can do so; checked in control panel and it appears that my status is set to "administrator".

UPDATE Sat 11.45am: Got back from buying some fish and chips to find the browser - IE of course - had hung and then the only way to shut down the computer was to use the start button on the top of the PC. So Windows 8 won't work with non-IE browsers and then it turns out that IE is flaky in Windows 8.

UPDATE Mon 9.45am: I gave the Microsoft tech permission to take control of my computer so that he could find the solution to the Outlook 2013 problem. It turns out that this version of the software needs different mail account settings from Outlook 2007. Problem resolved.

UPDATE Mon 10.55pm: Finally managed to install Google Chrome. Unlike the first few times I tried to do this, the application simply installed without a problem this time. No idea why. Problem solved.

UPDATE Tues 6.40am: Trying to scan a book cover so I can do a book review, GIMP cannot see the printer. Word 2013 has no trouble printing to the printer. Downloaded the minimum HP printer driver last night and installed it. Downloaded the 119MB full-feature driver this morning but it then will not install. Windows printer setup dialog says printer not connected to computer, but then lets me print a test page.

Keyboard problems. My old USB keyboard is connected to the PC but certain characters do not function correctly, notably the inverted comma and the quotation marks. In addition, the numeric keypad does not work at all. Might have to use the wireless keyboard HP supplied with the box, although I'm not really keen on using more wireless devices.

UPDATE Tues 12.30pm: The PC is back in the repair shop to address the keyboard issue. I'd called HP on this count and they suggested that I had acquired a virus or spyware. Which is intimidating to say the least. Their next step would be to wipe the hard disk and reinstall the operating system, they told me. But that would mean reinstalling all my programs, which has been a cumbersome and time-consuming task. They also asked me to back up my data files prior to taking that step. So I called the PC repair shop to ask if they could do this for me. They told me to bring the PC in so they could try to find out why the keyboard didn't work properly.

Some stats to go with this update. Days since my old PC stopped working: 9. Days since took possession of new PC: 5. Number of calls made to  help lines: 5. Number of case numbers acquired in the process: 4. Number of times the new PC has been in the repair shop: 2.

UPDATE Tues 1.30pm: PC repair guy says the problem with the keyboard is because the computer's internal setting was set to 'American' instead of 'Australian' keyboard. Kudos to the PC repair guy for taking time to look for the real problem, and not just saying, 'The HP people know what they're talking about.' I've spent days setting the box up and would have hated to loose all that work just because of an incorrect diagnosis. What was HP thinking?

PC repair guy also told me how to make a backup of important files on the remote hard drive, which is running in its initial backup instance now. I've set the device to back up my files every 3 hours.

UPDATE Wed 8.25am: Had a follow-up call back from the Microsoft support guy and we discussed the outcome and the process for a small amount of time. Apparently, Microsoft has concerns about the number of third-party applications that manufacturers like HP bundle with their new computers. The main problem I had (apart from the Outlook 2013 configuration issue) was that third-party services are being set to start on boot by HP in its default configuration of new PCs. For me, this caused conflicts with Outlook as well as with other third-party software that I wanted to install such as the browser, Chrome.

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